Thursday, February 11, 2010

polyamory time enough for love

UPDATE: Postmodernogamy

Yet again it seems I'm going off the intended purpose of this blog. Fuck it, right? I was recently asked to give my perspective on polyamory, in a kind of general way. Several weeks prior, I was interviewed by a woman doing a dissertation on the subject. So I kind of free associated, and this is what came of it. I hope that it is interesting to you, and maybe spawns some discussion that avoids hate mongering. (Unless if it's funny hate mongering.) 

So, with some embellishment after the fact, here is my undirected take on that subject. 

The first rule is there are no rules. The second rule, if this is your first time, you have to fuck. Sorry, going with the Fight Club thing. No, that's definitely not the second rule. Ahem.

Anyway, now that I've fucked my flow up for a bad joke... I'll give you my thoughts on polyamory.

I think one of the biggest issues of social life is that we have this conceit about permanence. The words we use to represent things don't change. We pretend that the categories that we invent and use to represent things actually exist, like eternal Platonic forms. And we get really pissed off whenever that isn't proven true. Who knows how
many people we say "I love you" to, and really mean it. We want the process of time to stop there- it's hard to imagine that many times, if you speed up the clock 10 years, that person who was so central to your life at that point won't even be on your map.

If we say that those people, times, and places had no meaning, then we've done them a disservice. We've done ourselves a disservice. All relationships that get beneath your surface leave you forever changed. That's the beauty of them. That's a big part of why we have them. It is a closer taste of immortality than reproduction-- crazy as it may be to say out loud, I have dead friends living in my head. And they will be there until I also die. 

The truth of life according to Heraclitus is everything is flux. He's some dead Greek guy, fuck him- but he was right. And the Taoists get on to the same simple, profound realization. Now it's like fortune cookie wisdom, but it's the truth. It's fortune cookie because it's true, and because we're afraid of it. We trivialize truths like this. 

Nowhere is that more potentially painful than in relationships, but short of controlling another person - making them property of some sort - they aren't going to obey your needs and timetables in all circumstances. Nor is that an ideal I'd really aspire to. (Except you know. For short periods. With few clothes.)

My introduction to polyamory was pretty much all wrong. Painful, messy, and ill-conceived-- most people would use it as an example of why the "whole thing" doesn't work. I could level the same empty accusation at monogamy. It was the final compromise, a way to try to keep a sinking ship from gaining water quite so quickly. But it made me realize that the way I had been "doing" relationships prior was unbalanced. It helped me realize why I'm wired the way I am, and that we can choose to run from it, or adapt and embrace it. 

I was primarily raised by my Mother. My Father was out of the picture by age four, and my mother identifies primarily as Lesbian. (Sexuality is more fluid than most would have us believe.) So, growing up, my experience was of my Mother, and her girlfriends. It's hard for me to deny, years later, that it is at least a little interesting that my preference is towards one partner, and other women, who serve the dual role of friend and lover.

There's a balancing act that occurs when you really connect with someone. I'm talking about what happens after the initial firework period has passed. If you love them, and you aren't an awful sub-human, the well being of that person is very high on your list of priorities. But on the other hand, if you're concerned with your own growth, and don't want to accept that the goal is to find someone you can tolerate, lock the door, and grow fat with them as one of you pops out babies, you're going to need to be open to one extent or another to meeting and connecting with new people. And the same goes for your partner(s) as well! 

As I mentioned at the beginning, the alchemy that occurs between people leaves them changed. Sexuality ties into this some pretty mysterious ways, especially in terms of what we often call "chemistry." All of us are wired differently, and have a different relationship with intimacy. But almost all of us are taught to believe there is a categorical difference between sexual partners and non-sexual partners, that they are independent categories and the boundaries between them cannot be trespassed. (And I don't just mean in terms of sexuality itself, but in terms of our borders of intimacy, emotional connection, need, desire, ...)

How we tread this path really depends on how we're wired. Some people aren't very sexual, and so there's no reason that these relationships need to involve anything sexual. But for those of us who are... Well, you can engage in serial monogamy, or cheating -- neither of those are for me, and they invariably lead to an excess of pain for one if not all involved parties.

There's something I learned in yoga that really seems to apply. You learn to identify the 'beneficial sensation' (pro tip: 'sensation' is yoga code for 'pain'), and the kind that can cause you damage or imbalance. The same is true in our relationships. And like with yoga, sometimes there will be a gradual increase of our flexibility, though there are also likely things that will always cause the harmful kind of pain or jealousy. Know your boundaries. They will be easily pointed out to you by life, when you experience the kind of pain that you can't process. That's a limit for now. It can't be someone else's fault if you convince them that A, B, or C is fine and then quietly go through emotional hell. It doesn't make anyone "less poly" to actually have emotional boundaries and be vocal about them. People who say otherwise are either looking for a philosophy to support being a slut -- which, really, why bother? just be a slut, it's ok to be so long as you're honest about it. Who is anyone else to judge?

Since everyone is different, and we are all changing all the time -- the only way to work with this is to communicate. Tell your partners where you are at. Don't be afraid to express your fears and needs- and if they are good people let alone good lovers, they'll put those things in mind. If on a rare occasion, Jaz is telling me that she's feeling really hormonal and insecure, that might not be the night for me to go on a bender with a bunch of beautiful women. (Not that I get the opportunity to do that nearly as often these days...) At least, I wouldn't do it without explicit reassurance from her- even then I'd listen to my gut and my heart first. Sometimes -- often -- it means compromise. Compromise, communication, and boobies. That's pretty much it. (It also helps if your partners get along.)

Does that answer your questions?


  1. First of all, I love the picture.

    Second of two, I love your writing! Your friend tiny_little_dot sent me thisaway, and I like what you have to say (not to mention the brash-but-wise delivery). Thanks for speaking up for polyamory.

    - F.A.R. out

  2. As I writer I hope to convey a new perspective on something - or at least an interesting one - and cram my personality in there at the same time. (For the LULZ.)

    There may be some other posts on this blog that are to your fancy, if you liked this one.

  3. Hooray for Boobies!!!

    You made some good points. I especially liked the yoga pain sensation/relationship awareness comparision.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Anonymous6:46 AM

    A fantastic and thoughtful post on polyamory. I'm glad my Google Alerts directed me this way.

  6. Great post James. I really enjoyed it. Insightful, honest and spot on about an issue that's usually muddled.

    Love the pro tip.


  7. most enlightening.





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